So Malawian President Joyce Banda is the latest SADC leader to benefit from the riches of ‘well-wishers’, who have been happily – and secretly, of course – helping to fund her foreign jaunts by paying for her to fly around in private planes. Astonishingly, one of these planes turns out to be the former presidential jet that she sold off to such universal acclaim after coming to power in 2012 but which – according to a superb investigative piece by the UK Telegraph – she now seems to be using for free thanks to the generosity of some unknown ‘well-wishers’.
Now this revelation begs all manner of questions about that famous ‘jettison-my-jet’ deal. But there are many more pressing questions. And they relate to the wonderful ‘well-wishers’ who have – so ‘altruistically’ – come to the president’s aid. And the most pressing of all is – who are they?
Needless to say – as the Telegraph article makes clear – they want to remain anonymous. And, just as needless to say, the Malawian presidency is abiding by their wishes – putting the president’s comfort above the people’s right to know. But who cares about Malawians right to know – especially about who is paying to keep the president flying in the manner she has obviously become accustomed to and, more importantly, what they are getting in return?
Clearly not the presidency – particularly not now in the run up to a presidential election. Fortunately, the Telegraph has followed the tortuous trail and alleges that it leads to the Paramount Group, Africa’s largest private defence and aerospace firm, which has already signed deals with the Malawian government for agriculture, fuel and military contracts through a network of investment firms. Talk about begging some pretty pressing and important questions.
But there’s no point in going to the government for answers because all you’ll get is the spokesperson’s stock defence - ‘they do not want us to reveal their identities and we respect their wishes’. It is the age-old defence when these stories come out. And each time it stinks. There is only one reason why ‘well-wishers’ want to remain in the shadows – so that they can exert influence or secure favours without anyone knowing. This is particularly true of private companies looking for an angle – and there is no better angle than cosying up to the chief.
You’d think that Banda would understand the potential pitfalls of this anonymous relationship considering that her government is already mired in one of the biggest corruption scandals in the country’s history. You’d think that she would be trying to be crystal clean right now rather than agreeing to be flown around for free by people whose only wish is, well, to make more money. And you’d think that she would now come out and tell the truth – or at least a more plausible version of it. But no. Her promise to her ‘well-wishers’ is clearly more important than her oath to uphold the constitution of Malawi and serve the people of the nation.
Speaking of which – when does a sovereign country (yup – that phrase beloved of SADC leaders) sink to the level that it needs to tap ‘well-wishers’ to fund the president’s official flights?
But Joyce Banda is far from alone when it comes to SADC leaders enjoying the favour of ‘well-wishers’. Remember Swazi King Mswati’s jet? It was funded by – yes, you guessed it – ‘well-wishers’ who wish to remain anonymous. Remember ZANU-PF’s US$20 million farming inputs scheme in 2012? Like many other cases in Zimbabwe, unidentified ‘well-wishers’ picked up the bill. And the list of generous and unknown donors goes on.
However, there is an even bigger scandal involving ‘well-wishers’ – secret donations to political parties. Take South Africa, for example, no one knows who funds the ruling ANC – or indeed the DA, which runs the Western Cape. There are many people who will hand over cash to support a party because they believe in it – but companies hand over large cheques because they want influence. And currently, no one knows whose cheques the parties are cashing. And this is the same elsewhere in the region. It is a genuine threat to open, participatory democracies and needs to be ended. But it’s going to be a long hard fight.
In the meantime, presidents – like Joyce Banda – can at least come clean about the ‘well-wishers’ funding specific projects or indeed planes. And if she doesn’t, she should be held to account at the ballot box.ShareThis